About the Ethnologue

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Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a comprehensive reference work cataloging all of the world’s known living languages. Since 1951, the Ethnologue has been an active research project involving hundreds of linguists and other researchers around the world. It is widely regarded to be the most comprehensive source of information of its kind.

The information in the Ethnologue will be valuable to anyone with an interest in cross-cultural communication, bilingualism, literacy rates, language planning and language policy, language development, language relationships, endangered languages, writing systems and to all with a general curiosity about languages.

Language descriptions in the Ethnologue

  • are organized by world area, UN region, and country

  • indicate region of use within countries

  • list alternate language and dialect names

  • specify the three-letter code from ISO 639-3

  • estimate speaker populations

  • give genetic classification of the language

  • describe language use and viability

  • identify writing scripts used

  • cite availability of literature and other products of language development

Other key features of the site:

  • statistical summaries by world area, language size, language status, language family, and country

  • extensive bibliography of references cited

  • over 200 color language maps

About the 17th edition

Because languages are dynamic, variable, and constantly changing, the total number of living languages in the world cannot be known precisely. As knowledge of the world’s languages increases, so does the number of identified languages. This edition reflects the net addition of 69 living languages that have been identified by the ISO 639-3 standard since the previous edition of Ethnologue was published (2009). This is the result of adding 156 languages previously unidentified (59 through splitting off what were previously considered dialects of another language and 97 as new varieties not previously associated with another language) and the subtraction of 87 languages (69 being merged with other languages and 18 removed because they were duplicates or could not be substantiated as ever having been a language).

In this edition, we tally 7,106 languages worldwide which are known to be in use. This is actually an increase of 195 over the previous edition, which is considerably more than the 69 explained above. The larger increase is due to the fact that in this edition we have changed the way we count “living” languages. Previously we counted only languages that have living speakers who learned them, for the most part, by transmission from parent to child as the primary language of day-to-day communication. These languages are commonly referred to as a person’s “first language” or “mother tongue”. With this edition, we institute the use of a greatly expanded system for classifying the vitality of every known language of the world. That system, known as EGIDS, is described in the section on Language Status. Next to the bottom end of the scale is the Dormant category (EGIDS 9). These languages were counted as extinct in the previous edition, but are now being distinguished from Extinct (EGIDS 10) and counted as living. In many cases there are revitalization efforts underway to preserve and even revive these languages as part of the heritage of living ethnic communities. While there may be no fully proficient speakers, some symbolic uses of these languages remain and they cannot be accurately identified as extinct. We believe this change aligns with the general consensus of language communities themselves and with the understanding of language preservation and documentation activists.

In addition to living languages as defined above, Ethnologue also contains data on languages which have gone out of use since the first appearance of the publication over 60 years ago. This edition lists 373 such recently extinct languages. Ancient, classical, and long-extinct languages are not listed (even though the ISO 639-3 standard assigns codes to them), unless they are in current use, such as in the scriptures or liturgy of a faith community. Such languages are classed as Dormant.

Another innovation in this edition is the reporting in much greater detail in each country of the functions of those languages which serve as officially recognized languages at the national and provincial levels. A description of the categories Ethnologue uses to describe these functions is given in the section on Official Recognition.